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Sweden’s COVID-19 response was a world away, in many ways

Passengers on an underground train wore masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Stockholm on Jan. 7, 2021.Jessica Gow/Associated Press

US society is not cut out for a ‘noncoercive policy’

Jeff Jacoby’s analysis of Sweden’s COVID-19 response is half right (“Only Sweden had the right COVID-19 response,” Opinion, Sept. 6). The response was right for Sweden. One of Jacoby’s points was that “Swedes were trusted by their political leaders to use their own judgment.” He fails to note that this trust was reciprocal. The country’s citizens willingly followed the “noncoercive policy” set out by their leaders.

Sweden does not have a history of paranoia about government. Its citizens enjoy national benefits that many here in the United States denounce as “socialism.”

Since the days of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has promoted fear and distrust of our government. Even the modest restrictions imposed on Swedes would have met fierce opposition from the MAGA crowd. Who knows how many additional deaths would have resulted here under a policy such as Sweden’s?


Sweden’s approach worked well for a country with universal health care, a truly representative government, and a population that appreciates both. That is not the United States.

Martin E. Cobern

Cheshire, Conn.

We rely on the cautious guidance of public health experts

It is indeed encouraging that there were strategies in Sweden that yielded a less onerous impact on the nation’s economy, its public health, and the overall well-being of its citizens. However, not all viral pandemics will behave the same way. Some throughout history have been significantly more devastating. How was the world to know what would happen next with COVID-19, which has shown itself capable of mutating quickly? Might children have been part of the next wave? Would the next mutation have been even more deadly to the most vulnerable among us or even to people who seem very healthy? And would most public health experts have behaved any differently without being able to look through a crystal ball?

I believe the US experience was made worse because, for some strange reason that confounds me still, some reactions became political. I’m grateful that Sweden had the experience it did, and it’s important to learn from what went well there. But I still rely on public health experts to err on the side of caution with the unknowns and to do their best to make recommendations based on available science.


My own family has experienced loss in three of the world’s disease outbreaks in the last century: polio, AIDS, and COVID. Both polio and COVID have had successful vaccines developed. We were fortunate that the COVID vaccine was developed so quickly, before even more people died. There is still no functional vaccine against HIV, though treatments developed over decades have proved viable.

The next pandemic, and there will be one, will have new characteristics and probably no obvious approach at the outset. It could be one that confounds science and medicine and doesn’t yield an effective vaccine or treatment quickly. Let’s remember that and learn from all of these experiences.

Stuart Armstrong